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Parent hits out at Education Authority over ongoing class closures and summer scheme cuts at Lisanally

The parent said the closures, which have been occurring throughout the academic year, are 'against the children’s rights to an education'

Lisanally Special School
Lisanally Special Needs School

The parent of a child at a special needs school in Armagh has hit out at the Education Authority over ongoing class closures and cuts to summer scheme provisions.

Their child goes to Lisanally Special School and has been affected by late-notice class closures, which parents have been told comes down to staffing issues.

Speaking to Armagh I, the parent, who has asked to remain anonymous, has branded the closures, which have been occurring throughout the academic year, as “against the children’s rights to an education”.

They even cited incidents when children have arrived at school on buses, only to be informed that the school did not have adequate staffing to take them in.

One class was affected for three days last month (May 2024).

The parent said: “Throughout the school year children are being so failed. Parents are getting a message either the night before, or that morning, saying classes are closed because they haven’t got staff.

“They’re closing classes usually once or twice a month and you’re left, from a parent’s perspective, not knowing if your child is going to school or not.

“There’s been occasions when children have arrived in school and we’re getting a phone call saying there’s no staff and we have to come and get them.”

Concerns have also been raised around the 10-day Lisanally Summer Scheme which has been reduced to four days.

Last year, the scheme was cancelled by the Education Authority due to construction works, with this decision being reverted due to pressure from parents.

Parents have been told the scheme is reducing to four days this year due to staffing difficulties but claim there was no consultation carried out.

“Over the last three or four years they have been cutting, cutting and cutting to the extent that they were running no summer scheme last year,” the parent said.

“Due to local pressure they conceded and ran the scheme over two days, which was better than nothing, but they’re really cutting back on summer provision.

“There was no consultation whatsoever and there’s never any meetings or anything with parents. You’re given a letter and you’re informed.”

The parent continued: “With the current climate, I could see that next year there won’t be a summer scheme. It mightn’t sound like much but for some parents it’s literally respite for them. Some parents can’t cope on their own for two weeks. It has huge implications.”

A further issue raised by parents at the school is that of nursery places.

This week, parents who named Lisanally School for early years’ provision have been informed by the Education Authority that the school will not be providing this in September 2024 and they have been asked to look for alternative arrangements.

“They communicated saying the unit is not open in September because they haven’t got the accommodation or staff.

“So, there’s parents out there who have a statement of educational needs that have named Lisanally and still haven’t been informed by the Education Authority where their child is going.

“It’s June now, they’re meant to start in September.”

For this parent, the blame lies at the door of the Education Authority, a sentiment they say is shared by many parents at the school.

“I think the school have their hands tied behind their backs. It’s just poor planning in terms of contingency and special needs provision.

“If there’s no staff that day, then the school doesn’t run. There doesn’t seem to be any planning. If the classes close once or twice you can see past that but if you’re having class closures for the whole year, that’s not acceptable.”

The parent continued: “Why is there no engagement with parents? Why is there no emergency planning from the Education Authority?

“They need better workforce planning. There’s no point going out and recruiting in September when you need people in jobs in September.

“The summer scheme happens in July. Those jobs should have been advertised in January, but we’ve got a situation where the jobs weren’t even advertised externally.”

They added: “I feel like in special schools the approach is, ‘pipe down and get on with it’. That’s how parents are made to feel.”

A spokesperson for the Education Authority (EA) commented: “Summer schemes are an extension of provision for children and their families when the school term ends and, whilst there is no statutory requirement for schools to provide this provision, they may elect to offer these greatly valued schemes to their community.

“Special Schools continue to face challenges in relation to Summer Schemes and have been significantly impacted by limited availability of staff who are sufficiently skilled to meet the complex needs of pupils, in conjunction with an increasing school population. As a result, a number of schools have been required to operate Summer Schemes on a reduced capacity basis.

“The EA continues to provide significant support to all Special School summer provisions with planning, training, Health and Safety, transport and assistance during the period of the Summer Schemes.”

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